DIRTY DOZEN - The first military watch specially commissioned by the British Army

Dirty Dozen Military Watch sales page

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We are all obsessed with military watches.

It's hard not to feel a rusty romance that evokes the scars of war from decades ago.

Wearing this relic from a past life will bring to mind all sorts of images and scenes of what this watch has seen.

Frankly, that's what I find so appealing about this watch.

"Dirty Dozen" 12 types in total

These watches have designs that we can all relate to, and that's something we should all appreciate.

Perhaps what piques our curiosity so much is the fact that wearing this watch on your wrist allows you to feel the experiences of its previous owners.

After all, choosing a watch is about feeling like you identify with the previous owner.

In this article we would like to introduce the first wristwatch designed specifically for the British Military.

This series of watches is affectionately called "The Dirty Dozen."

Dirty Dozen Omega Watches

Why were British military watches made?

Let's start by explaining the origins of the wristwatch.

In the 1940s, during World War II, the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) needed watches to issue to its soldiers.

They felt that watches worn by ordinary people lacked functionality and visibility.

Rather than signing contracts with specific brands, they invited any Swiss manufacturer that would faithfully reproduce their requests in order to maximize production.

We didn't just place orders with any Swiss manufacturer; we only placed orders with manufacturers that met the WWW's requirements.
(We will explain the WWW later.)

The specifications were extremely strict to meet the rigors of military life, and after taking all of this into consideration, 12 watch manufacturers were selected, and they came to be known as "The Dirty Dozen."

The twelve manufacturers are: Buren, Cyma, Eterna, Grana, Jaeger Le-Coultre, Lemania, Longines, IWC, Omega, Record, Timor, and Vertex.

All were delivered in 1945 and came with either pigskin or canvas straps.

Now, keep in mind that these watches look great on NATO straps, but NATO straps didn't exist before the 70s!

Military Specification
Dirty Dozen Omega Case Back

Dirty Dozen Omega Case Back Inside

Officially, these watches are referred to by the British military codename WWW, which stands for Watch, Wrist, and Waterproof, to distinguish them from other military equipment.

It doesn't get any more practical than this!

The British Ministry of Defence specification is everything you'd expect from a military watch: waterproof, brilliant, accurate.

Two serial numbers are assigned, one for the manufacturer and one for the military.

The dials were all black, with easy-to-read Arabic numerals and seconds scale.

The back of the watch features the word WWW clearly printed on it along with an arrow symbol.

Military dials and reverses often feature the broad arrow mark, which has traditionally been the mark of Royal property.

"Swiss rather than English"
Manufacturer UK Store Number NSN
Buren VB10026 -
Eterna VB10027 -
IWC VB10028 99-445-5890
Grana VB10029 -
Jaeger Le-Coultre VB10030 -
Lemania VB10031 -
Longines VB10032 -
Omega VB10033 99-445-2031
Record VB10034 99-445-9830
Cyma VB10035 -
Timor VB10036 99-445-9855
Vertex VB10037 -
Enicar VB10025 -
Table 4: UK Store Numbers and NATO Stock Numbers (NSN)


Reasons for ordering from a Swiss watchmaker

What's really interesting is that the British Ministry of Defence looked for the watches in Switzerland rather than in their own country.

The British watch industry was in considerable decline at that time.

Furthermore, the remaining British watch manufacturers were focused on producing equipment for the war effort, both for the navy and air force, and only neutral Switzerland was willing to continue producing watches.

What's really interesting here is that while it's well known that the Ministry of Defense received WWWs from 12 watch manufacturers, records show that they actually ordered them from 13 manufacturers.

Dirty Dozen Military Watch sales page

Enica removed as enemy supplier

This 13th brand is less well known, but it's called "Enica."

Each manufacturer was assigned a designated store number, Enica's was 10025, but there was no product to prove it.

It's difficult to glean much more from the records of the time, but rumor has it that while the Allies were investigating several Swiss manufacturers, Enicar was identified as an enemy supplier and was subsequently blacklisted.

This is the Dirty Dozen watch, a total of 12 types of watches.

All 12 Dirty Dozen watches

Dirty Dozen Collector

In the 21st century and into modern times, these watches are carefully curated by collectors.

It would be one thing if you only had one type, but it is said to be extremely difficult to collect all 12.

There are collectors who have been searching the internet for years just to get hold of all of these species, but it seems they are still not done.

I am by no means denying a challenge.
Rather, I would like to hear from someone who has a collection of 12 pieces.

Keep in mind that searching for them all will test your patience and research skills, and you'll only feel a sense of accomplishment once you've collected all 12.

Dirty Dozen Grana Watches

The WWW was not hard to come by, with approximately 145,000 units having been produced and delivered by 1945.

However, collecting a complete set is difficult because the quantities produced by each manufacturer do not match each other.

Even more unfortunate, the radioactive radium-226 in the luminescent material caused many WWWs to fail in the 1970s.

The table below shows the estimated production volumes of each manufacturer, but most of these can be easily found with a bit of searching.

Try and find Grana!

Manufacturer Letter Code Production Volume Source
Buren H 11,000 Estimated
Cyma P 20,000 Estimated
Eterna: P 5,000 Estimated
Grana M 1,000-1,500 Estimated
IWC M 6,000 An IWC record
JLC (Jaeger-LeCoultre) F 10,000 JLC Record
Lemania Q 8,000 guess
Longines F 5,000 Guess
Omega Y 25,000 OMEGA record
Record L 25,000 Estimate
Timor K 13,000 Estimated
Vertex A 15,000 Estimate


While the IWC watches are undoubtedly the best in terms of functionality, the rarity of the Grana makes it more than worth it.

The most coveted of the Dirty Dozen, the most expensive, and the one that's always missing from any collection is the Grana.

If you do find one, know that it is extremely rare.

As for IWC, while these 12 manufacturers all tend to be quite similar in order to meet strict specification requirements, what sets IWC apart is the use of a snap-on mechanism on the back of the case.

All other manufacturers use screw backs.

Also, IWC uses a conventional crystal, while other manufacturers use a flanged crystal with a retaining ring.

IWC Caliber 83

GRANA Caliber KF320

Top: IWC Caliber 83 Bottom: GRANA Caliber KF320

If I had to choose one, I would choose the Longines At 37.5mm.

Upon closer inspection, there are many elements that set this manufacturer apart, such as the modern size, stepped case design, and large minute hand track.

There is no need to mention the evolution of the legendary 12.68Z.

Longines At37.5mm

Extremely rare products

It's clear that Grana is the most coveted and rare of the 12 manufacturers, but there are other nuances to its offerings that collectors will love.

It has KNIL engraved on the caseback and is perhaps the rarest watch of the Dirty Dozen, with fewer than 10 documented examples.

KNIL stands for "Dutch Indonesian Military" and was issued to the Dutch military stationed in Indonesia during the colonial period.

Reissued K.N.I.L. spec Longines W.W.W.

Reissued KNIL Longines WWW

Let's move the story forward.

These watches were only delivered until the end of World War II, and when the war ended, the UK found itself in a state of overstock and wanted to remedy this.

While the East Indies (present-day Indonesia) were celebrating their victory in the war, the Dutch military stationed in Indonesia, which had recently won independence from Japanese colonial rule, now found themselves opposed by the independence movement of the Indonesian Freedom Army.

Due to the need for military supplies, the Netherlands approached Britain.

Despite being an ally, Britain was unwilling to aid in the conflict and was reluctant to sell or buy military goods.

However, issuing military wristwatches was deemed harmless and was permitted.

And so the now mythical WWW was reborn with a KNIL case back.

Furthermore, there is a deeper meaning to this story.

What is noteworthy here is that the WWW that was re-produced this time had its design changed again and was supplied to ADRI (Indonesian military).

These two armies were at odds with each other, and it could be said that the watches were forcibly exchanged between them.

In the photo below, you can see that the word KNIL has been roughly erased and the word ADRI has been carved in its place.

The story of this watch spans British, Dutch and Indonesian war history, and if you're talking about watch provenance, there's no better story to tell.

A.D.R.I reworked KNIL

The reissued IWC WWW has had the KNIL letters roughly scratched out and ADRI re-edited.

British military watches other than the Dirty Dozen

There is much debate about the originality of the parts and components of these watches.

They are often replaced for maintenance purposes etc.

All WWWs are maintained and repaired by REME (Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers), so it seems that it was common for cutting and part changes to be made regardless of the wishes of each manufacturer.

Spare hands for watch making

Spare hands 2 for watch making

Spare hands for watch making 3

Spare hand for Longines in round case, store number 10032 can be read on the label

The dials are often changed by the military to tritium or promethium (a cheaper version of tritium) dials and sometimes have no branding, just a serial number.

These REME replacement dials, distinguished as Mod or NATO dials depending on the engraving and period designation, can inadvertently be mixed in with the 12 original manufacturer watches.

In those moments, remember that it's functionality that counts, not originality or rarity.

Combined with a lack of records, collectors can only study existing watch records and documentation and guess at what may be originals.

The dial has been replaced with tritium by NATO and is not engraved with the brand name.

The dial has been replaced with tritium by NATO and is not engraved with the brand name.

The dial has been replaced with tritium by NATO and is not engraved with the brand name.

IWC watch delivery box

An IWC watch delivery box, a very rare find.

If the sole purpose was to collect the products, these boxes might have been thrown away.

Inside the box, 6 pieces per box

Inside the box, 6 per box, probably not including snap-ons

IWC watch and original delivery box

IWC watch and original delivery box

The back of the dial is stamped October 9, 1945.

The back of the dial is stamped October 9, 1945.

IWC's original radium dial

IWC's original radium dial

Cyma original radium dial

Cyma original radium dial


As with any vintage watch, the market is very complicated.

Finally, I hope you enjoy this article as much as I enjoyed writing it.

And if I can get you even a little bit interested in the Dirty Dozen, then all the work will have been worth it!

Dirty Dozen Military Watch sales page